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Friday, October 11, 2019

Table Saws Versus Miter Saws: Which Should You Get

A DeWalt miter saw and Saw Stop miter saw over a VS battle background.
Denys Koltovskyi/Shutterstock

When building a workshop, you may find yourself deciding between two common power tools: table saws and miter saws. The two saws have many similarities and a few defining differences. When choosing one, you need to know those differences.

Table saws and miter saws are both great power tools for cutting wood and other materials to size. They’re also capable of more advanced cuts like angles and even bevels. But how they go about physically cutting differs between the two saws and those differences matter for both what they are capable of and how safe they are to use.

Miter Saw Blades Move to the Wood

A DeWalt miter saw tilted at and angle to cut through floor molding.
Here, a miter saw moves down at an angle to make a bevel cut. DeWalt

Miter saws and table saws both rely on a spinning blade concept, similar to a circular saw. It’s even possible to use the same blade in both tools (though generally, you won’t). But where that blade physically resides and how you use it differs between the two tools.

A miter saw holds its blade high with the teeth facing downwards. You place your wood or other material below it, then bring the spinning blade down onto the wood. A table saw holds its blade in the table with the teeth facing upward. If you imagine a circular saw resting upside down on a table, that’s the basic concept. Instead of the spinning blade moving to the wood, you move the wood into the blade.

For a beginner, this difference in design makes the miter safer. Instead of pushing your limbs and fingers towards a spinning blade, you move the blade in a predictable downward fashion. That makes it easy to keep your arms out of the way.

Table saws, on the other hand, require knowledge of concepts like kickback, three points of pressure, and proper usage of safety gear like push sticks and push blocks. Kickback occurs when the table saw blade grabs trapped wood (or other material) and throws it, possibly at you. That leads to severe injuries. While kickback can also occur on a miter saw, it’s less likely to happen. As such, table saws are inherently more dangerous than miter saws with more room for error.

Table Saws are More Versatile

A man feeding a large plywood piece to a DeWalt table saw.
A miter saw could never cut a plywood piece like this. DeWalt

With a miter saw, you can accomplish three kinds of cuts: crosscuts, miter cuts, and bevel cuts. Crosscuts make a long piece of wood shorter. Miter cuts are an angled cut that joins two pieces of wood like your door frame’s corner or a picture frame. Bevel cuts are similar to miter cuts but come in at a different angle.

The bevel cut allows two tall pieces of wood to join together nicely, as seen with the baseboards in your home. To miter cut, you turn the blade from left to right, while keeping it in a straight up and down position. To bevel cut, you tilt the blade sideways, left or right. It’s possible to both bevel and miter cut at the same time.

For most woodworking projects, crosscuts and miter cuts are the two most common cuts you will make. But, for some types of projects, you may need additional options that a table saw provides.
In addition to all of the above cuts, you can use a table saw to rip cut, resaw, and create french cleats. A rip cut makes wide board narrower. Depending on your blade height and the size of the board, a table saw can also resaw wood to divide a thick board into two thin boards.

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